Cubs

How the Cubs match up against the Dodgers in the NLCS

How the Cubs match up against the Dodgers in the NLCS

Ben Zobrist used a 1910 model of a glove during the Cubs workout Thursday, "just for fun."

Think the Cubs are loose enough?

Zobrist and his teammates are feeling themselves right now, as well they should. 

Tuesday's NLDS-clinching Game 4 comeback in San Francisco ranks among the best in MLB posteason history and the team that finished the regular season with the best record in baseball is overflowing with confidence.

As the Los Angeles Dodgers pulled out all the stops to fend off the Washington Nationals in a high-stress Game 5 Thursday night, the Cubs only had to be concerned with what to eat for dinner ("I think we're gonna use UberEats," Joe Maddon said).

Before the Dodgers and Nationals squared off in the longest nine-inning game in postseason history, Maddon didn't need to deliver any John Wooden quotes about how the Cubs just needed to focus on playing their game. 

Been there, done that.

Beyond Clayton Kershaw, the Cubs hitters have very little experience going up against the rest of the Dodgers pitchers, but that wasn't enough to create any sense of panic in Maddon at the Cubs workout at Wrigley Field Thursday.

"It's the same way for us, although I do believe a pitcher who's pitching well should have an advantage over a team that has not seen him to that point, normally," Maddon said. "Kershaw, we've seen in the past and you know how good he is. [Rich] Hill, I've never seen in person yet, but I've seen him on TV. 

"Of course, it's something different. But I wouldn't worry about that. ... I honestly believe our guys will be equal to the challenge. I know they're gonna be ready. We're feeling pretty good about ourselves. Just continually work the moment and we'll be fine."

The Cubs are already in a good spot, getting three full days of rest before the National League Championship Series starts Saturday night. 

Plus, they get to reset their rotation and roll out their ace (Jon Lester) for Game 1 in hopes of setting the tone again. 

The Dodgers, meanwhile, tapped their closer (Kenley Jansen) for a career-high 51 pitches and both of their top two starters (Kershaw and Rich Hill) in the do-or-die Game 5 Thursday night.

Kershaw threw 110 pitches in Game 4 Tuesday, had a day off, then threw another seven pitches to get two outs Thursday night. Would the Dodgers push him again to start one of the games at Wrigley this weekend?

Hill dealt with blister issues the entire second half of the season and already started Game 5 Thursday on short rest after throwing 82 pitches on Sunday. He wasn't all that effective in either outing (combined 6.43 ERA, 1.86 WHIP).

But the Dodgers are far more than just three pitchers.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

2016 SEASON SERIES

The Cubs went 4-3 against the Dodgers in the regular season, winning three of four at Wrigley in June before dropping a pair of one-run contests in a three-game set at Dodger Stadium in late August.

The Cubs finished the season with a +252 run differential, but that number was only +3 against the Dodgers in the seven games as the Cubs offense averaged only 2.7 runs per game against L.A. pitching.

LINEUP

The Dodgers lineup is so loaded with lefties, both Maddon and Cubs GM Jed Hoyer admitted rookie southpaw Rob Zastryzny could crack the 25-man NLCS roster.

Zastryzny has only 16 big-league innings under his belt and got lost in the shuffle a little bit down the stretch, appearing in only two games in the final four weeks of the regular season. But the results were all positive (1.13 ERA, 1.06 WHIP).

In the winner-take-all Game 5, the Dodgers started six lefties and a switch-hitter against Nationals ace Max Scherzer and then brought out another lefty (Andre Ethier) to pinch hit.

Beyond Lester, the Cubs also had three southpaws in their bullpen in the NLDS - Travis Wood, Mike Montgomery and closer Aroldis Chapman. Zastryzny would represent another weapon if the Cubs went that route.

Regardless of side, the Dodgers have a deep lineup with a nice blend of youth (Corey Seager, Joc Pederson) and battle-tested veterans (Chase Utley, Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez) plus role players like Josh Reddick, Howie Kendrick and the enigmatic Yasiel Puig.

Utley and catcher Carlos Ruiz won the World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008 and will help keep the clubhouse focused on the big picture.

ROTATION

Kershaw pulled a Madison Bumgarner by pitching in three of the five NLDS games, leaving his status in doubt. 

Is Game 1 out of the question? He only threw seven pitches Thursday night plus his warm-ups in the bullpen. Other than that, he had Wednesday and will have Friday off after Tuesday's 110-pitch start.

Can he go in Game 2 Sunday night? Or will the Dodgers play it safe and just wait to unleash him until next week in Los Angeles?

Those are the main questions around the Dodgers rotation, since the sun rises and sets with Kershaw, the best pitcher on the planet. 

Hill's blisters could still be a concern and he probably won't be a factor in the first two games at Wrigley.

Then there's 20-year-old phenom Julio Urias, who pitched twice against the Cubs in the regular season to a 1-1 record and 4.91 ERA. But Urias really turned a corner in August, going 4-0 with a 1.34 ERA in his final eight games (six starts).

Japanese rookie Kenta Maeda rounds out the rotation and only lasted three innings in his first postseason start against the Nationals, giving up four runs and taking the loss.

BULLPEN

After taking advantage of the Giants' shaky bullpen in the NLDS, the Cubs now draw a Dodgers bullpen that paced the majors with a 3.35 ERA in the regular season.

Jansen (47 SVs, 1.83 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 13.6 K/9) and Joe Blanton (28 HLDs, 2.48 ERA, 1.01 WHIP) lead the way. Righties Pedro Baez, Josh Fields and Ross Stripling and lefty Luis Avilan present manager Dave Roberts with plenty of options for the middle innings.

Grant Dayton, a 28-year-old rookie, had a 2.05 ERA in the regular season, but had a rough NLDS (16.20 ERA, 4.20 WHIP).

KEY TO THE SERIES

The Cubs hit just .200 with a .597 OPS against the Giants in the NLDS and saw a stunning share of their offense come from the pitching staff. 

But now they draw a team that threw everything on the line just to get to the NLCS.

Kershaw's postseason struggles are for real (5.84 ERA in NLDS, 4.83 in 15 games prior to 2016) and he also missed several months of the regular season with a back injury. If he can't turn things around in the NLCS or if he only gets in a couple games, that would be a huge boost for the Cubs.

Of course, there could be some regression to the mean for baseball's best offense regardless of who's pitching. Only the Texas Rangers posted a worse team OPS in the postseason through the NLDS and they got swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALDS.

The Cubs offense is a sleeping giant and that Game 4 comeback could be the trigger.

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

cubs_podcast_offense_slid.jpg
USA TODAY

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Luke Stuckmeyer and Tony Andracki discuss the comments Chili Davis made after being fired as Cubs hitting coach, ask if the Cubs struggles on offense were Davis' fault or the players and what Anthony Iapoce will be walking into as he tries to gets the team back on track a the plate.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here, or in the embedded player below:

 

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

The changing of the guard continues for the Cubs this offseason. 

After the team hired a new hitting coach yesterday, it was reported today that they're losing a front office member: 

Rehman, who has been with the Cubs in the same position for the last seven years, will reportedly head up the Rangers' analytics department. According to the Chicago Tribune, Rehman's role was " evaluating existing systems, and recognizing and applying solutions in an effort to create competitive advantages for the organization." 

All reports indicate that he'll be doing similar analytic-based work with the Rangers.